A federal judge Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order that bars Hammonds Ranches Inc. from livestock grazing on federal public land near Burns during June.
U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon ruled from the bench, noting a written order would follow. He also has scheduled another hearing for June 28 to consider a motion by three environmental advocacy groups for a preliminary injunction barring further grazing at the sites.
Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and Wildearth Guardians filed a complaint last month to block the renewal of a 10-year grazing permit for Hammond Ranches Inc., run by Dwight Hammond Jr. and son Steven Hammond.
The suit was filed against the interior secretary, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the district manager of the land bureau’s Burns District office.
The groups argue that then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s renewal of the grazing permit after the Hammonds were issued pardons violated federal administrative regulations because it failed to consider the Hammonds’ unsatisfactory record.
The groups contend the father and son’s cattle-grazing record violated regulations set by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Department of Interior and that the new permit didn’t undergo proper environmental assessments. They also argue the renewed grazing will harm sage-grouse habitats in the region and increase invasive weeds and the likelihood of destructive fires.
“This land hasn’t been grazed for five years, providing sage grouse and their habitat a much-needed reprieve from the harmful impacts of cows,” said Judi Brawer, of WildEarth Guardians. “Starting grazing now will have serious ecological consequences that must be considered. Every other grazing permit is supposed to go through the environmental review process. Trump and his henchmen should not be allowed to constantly claim exceptions to that rule.”
Attorney Stephen J. Odell, representing the federal land management agency and the Interior Secretary, argued against a temporary order, contending the three groups had failed to show “irreparable injury” would ensure from the continued grazing.
Odell noted the groups waited until May 13 to file their suit, months after the government announced its plan to renew the Hammonds’ grazing permit. Federal standards are being met on the land allotments where grazing has resumed, except in regard to native, threatened species, but that’s not the fault of the cattle grazing, according to Odell.
The sagebrush habitat “are somewhat deficient due to juniper encroachment, recent fire history, and the presence of invasive annual grasses,” Odell wrote in a legal brief opposing the temporary restraining order.
On Jan. 29, Zinke ordered the permit renewal for Hammond Ranches Inc. to last through 2024.
In February 2014, the federal agency rejected the Hammonds’ renewal application, citing their criminal convictions for setting fire to public land. The father and son were convicted in 2012 of arson on Harney County land where they had grazing rights for their cattle. They were ordered back to prison in early 2016 to serve out five-year sentences in a case that incited right-wing militias and inspired the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which abuts the Hammond family ranch.
But on July 10, the Trump administration pardoned the father and son.